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Twenty(something) Questions: The art of happiness

photo(3)The Dalai Lama was not quite the man I thought he would be.

The thing is, I didn’t really expect him to be a man at all. I had hyped it up in my head so much that I think I was subconsciously expecting an angel to fly down from the ceiling to awaken us all into higher levels of consciousness. I had hoped for some sort of illuminating epiphany to knock me off my seat and to return home that evening a new man with unearthly wisdom and a knowing smile on my face.

Instead, I left as the same person, with the same problems. However, I did have a smile on my face.

I attended both of the 14th Dalai Lama’s public talks last Friday and Saturday after much anticipation; I guess you could say I’m a big fan. Ever since I read The Art of Happiness: a Handbook for Living, I’ve wanted to pick up and move to Dharamshala, the home of His Holiness and the exiled Tibetan government, to learn what it is we’re doing wrong in the West. They must be doing something right over there; you can see it in their faces.

Nowadays, it seems as though we all have our noses stuck in self-help books and other healthy guides to living so that others can figure out our problems for us. We seek advice from the experts on how to eat well, how to be successful, but most of all, we seek some kind of roadmap on how to be happy.

It’s our main concern, as the Dalai Lama explained on Saturday, to find happiness. We’re all human beings, after all. We seek it in different places: in a partner, our children, a career, or a new flat-screen. It’s never enough, though — for most of us, at least.

The night before the talks, a friend told me that she had seen His Holiness speak once before, but that throughout the oration, he continued to experience issues with the microphone, which sort of demystified the experience for her. I guess we somehow forget that he doesn’t deal with day-to-day problems that ordinary people like us do. Reality check: he does.

His Holiness entered the venues on each occasion followed by an air densely filled with humility and modesty, waving his hands for us to sit down as if he were completely unworthy of any sort of ovation. After seeing him put on a University of New Orleans visor, all of the mystery sort of washed away. He’s actually a real man, I thought to myself.


His Holiness made a visible effort to communicate this to all of us by reiterating that he is a simple monk. Senator Mary Landrieu in her introduction had introduced him as someone we all know to be much more than that, mainly due to his extensive work in spreading peace and compassion worldwide.

But I don’t think that that was his message. It was clear that, at the end of the day, he wanted us to know that he is one of us. Not better or higher, holier or wiser. He is simply a man who lives in this world not above us, but among us. And that means that we, too, can live like he.

When asked what makes him happy, his simple answers (a good meal, some good sleep) demonstrated their lack of significance. To him, happiness is a way of life. It does not depend on what happens in your life, but rather how you experience it all. The man who has been exiled from his homeland and still radiates compassion for those responsible is a testament to this.

Two years after reading his book, I think his teachings are finally starting to sink in. Maybe we need to stop trying to figure out how to be happy and just do it. There comes a time when you realize that you’re not going to find the answers in a book or from someone else’s words. It’s all inside; you just need to figure out how to find it.

That’s where the smile on my face came from. It’s when I realized that happiness is not science.

It’s an art.

Joey Albanese writes about the twenty-something generation in New Orleans for NolaVie. Send him questions or tell him the answers at


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